Most common place names people get wrong: Holland, Czech Republic and more

The Dutch government has officially dropped the name "Holland". From now on, the country will only refer to itself as the Netherlands in an overhaul of its international branding strategy.

While the country is often referred to as "Holland", this is actually inaccurate. The Netherlands consists of 12 provinces and only two of these – Noord and Zuid Holland, on the country's western coast – make up Holland.

"It has been agreed that the Netherlands, the official name of our country, should preferably be used," a spokeswoman for the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs said when the announcement was made in October last year. The decision to drop Holland came into effect on January 1 2020.

The Netherlands, meaning the low countries, was first used after Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo more than 200 years ago, but Holland has been used to describe the country ever since.

The rebranding is also part of a wider strategy to direct tourists to other parts of the country beyond Amsterdam. In May, the Dutch tourist board stopped actively promoting Amsterdam as a destination, amid concerns of overtourism in the city.

As the national moniker of "Holland" enters the history books, we take a look through the places around the world that – for one reason or another – we continue to call by the wrong name.


Ezulwini valley in Swaziland Eswantini with beautiful mountains, trees and rocks in scenic green valley between Mbabane and Manzini cities. Traditional huts houses of Swaziland iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted. Swaziland or eSwatini

Ezulwini valley in eSwantini. Photo: iStock

In 2018 the King of Swaziland, one of the world's few absolute monarchs, announced that the tiny landlocked African country would from this point onwards be known as The Kingdom of eSwatini.

The announcement came on the 50th anniversary of Swaziland's independence from British rule, and is a move that many other countries made shortly after independence (Rhodesia to Zimbabwe in 1980, Nyasaland to Malawi in 1964, Bechuanaland to Botswana in 1966).


Czech Republic

Crowd of tourists at Old Town Square in Prague during day of springtime. in background, Church of Our Lady before Týn. Besides the astronomical clock. iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted. Prague overtourism, tourist crowds

The Old Town Square in Prague, Czechia's capital city. Photo: iStock

In July 2016, the Czech Republic's government registered Czechia as its short-form English name. Many publications and people continue to use the longer, formal version (the equivalent of calling France the French Republic), but Google maps for one has got on board with the shift.

The change was proposed to make life easier for English speakers, although it doesn't affect locals, who continue to refer to their country as Česko.

We can at least see the similarity here, but there are some countries whose name in the local language is unrecognisable. Croatia is Hrvatska, Hungary is Magyarország and, you probably know this one already – the Central African Republic is of course Ködörösêse Tî Bêafrîka


North Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, left, takes a selfie with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras, outside the Prime Minister office in Skopje, North Macedonia, on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. Greek Prime minister has arrived in North Macedonia, the first ever official visit of a Greek leader to neighboring country after decades of strained relations between two nations burdened over the name

North Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, left, takes a selfie with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras, during the latter's visit to North Macedonia, the the first ever official visit of a Greek leader. Photo: AP

In October 2018, Macedonia's parliament voted to start the process of renaming the country North Macedonia, in what was seen as a major step towards ending a decades-long stalemate with Greece.

Greece had long demanded that its northern neighbour change or modify its name to avoid any claim to the territory and ancient heritage of the region in northern Greece named Macedonia – birthplace of ancient warrior king Alexander the Great.

The Netherlands, The Congo, The Yemen, The Seychelles, The Ukraine...

Strictly speaking, the film should have been called Salmon Fishing in Yemen. There are many countries that we refer to with "the", but the only countries that officially have the definite article are The Gambia and The Bahamas.

The mistake is often made when a place is named after a river (Congo), desert region (Sudan), or group of islands (Seychelles). If Thames, Sahara or Hebrides became country names, we would likely make a similar mistake.

Netherlands means "lower countries" and Ukraine means "borderland" or "land by the side" in the local languages, so adding the definite article isn't completely mistaken (the lower countries, the borderland), but technically speaking the English habit of adding "the" before place names is one made in error.

Shrewsbury, Budapest and Ely

We may roll our eyes when Americans call Edinburgh Edin-Burrow and Glastonbury Glaston-berry but there are plenty of place names that Brits frequently get wrong, including towns close to home.

Shrewsbury, for one, is frequently pronounced Shrow-sbury by southerners and people who aren't from the market town. But in a Shropshire Star poll, 1,000 online readers voted overwhelmingly in favour of Shroo-sbury as the correct pronunciation, by a margin of 81 per cent.

There are other towns that have been known to cause confusion. Ely is actually ee-lee, Islay is eye-la and some pedants will tell you that Budapest should be pronounced Budapesht. We'll leave that one for the residents of Magyarország to explain.

London's misnamed landmarks

Westminster Abbey in London

Westminster Abbey. Not actually an abbey. Photo: iStock

There are a number of places in London that we've been calling by the wrong name. Most purveyors of pub quiz knowledge are aware that Big Ben is not the tall clocktower in Westminster, but rather the bell in the clock. The correct name for the tower is "Elizabeth Tower", crowned in 2012 to mark Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee.

Slightly further off the tourist trail, but only a mile or so from Waterloo, the Elephant and Castle roundabout hasn't been a roundabout since 2015, when the famously logjammed junction introduced two-way traffic.

Back on that tourist trail, Westminster Abbey is in fact not an abbey at all; anyone who recalls their primary school history will know that Henry VIII removed all abbeys, convents and monasteries in the Dissolution of the Monasteries between 1536 and 1541. Its official name is the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, though you won't find that on many magnets.

The Telegraph, London

See also: Don't go there: 12 destinations to avoid in 2020

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